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September; it’s officially back to school time – and with that comes the official “Back to Church” time.

Allow me to explain…

As summer approaches, it’s like clock work that by mid-June the church parking lot gets a little thinner, the seating inside is a little more open, and the singing is… well weak.  Because 1,500 voices as opposed to 413 voices is a drastic difference.  Or if you attend a smaller church just change that ratio.  Sometimes the lack of attendance becomes drastic; let me tell you, it’s a very uncomfortable situation when it’s July 4th and only seven people show up to  the 1st service at church (this is a VERY true story from a pastor I know VERY well).  As a pastor, what do you do when that happens?  Do you just pull everyone into your office and have “Small Group”?  Do you still use the microphone?  Oh bless that pastor’s heart who had to deal with that uncomfortable situation. 

Oh and I shouldn’t forget to mention the meager summer status of the collection/offering basket… let’s just say that when “school is out” the offering basket is neglected.  There must be a theory out there that says; if you don’t go to church, then you don’t need to “pay”.  Personally I didn’t know that church was a “pay-as-you-go” type of thing, but I think the concept is pretty popular and appears to be the only reasonable explanation for the drop in church funds during the summer. I suppose everyone presumes God will understand missed tithes during vacation time, plus have you seen the price of Disneyland tickets?

Anyways before I get all judgmental opening a can of whoop-hiney, let me return to the topic: “Back to Church” time.  It’s always the Sunday following Labor Day weekend. Always. Everyone does the laundry, ironing, and gets their Sunday best ready. And I’m not gonna kid around, it’s going to be nuts, and you need to be ON YOUR GAME to survive. So here are a couple tips:

1) Parking, Coffee, and Donuts (oh my): Back to Church Sunday is treated like Easter and Christmas, there will be slow-down-cones and macho men in bright orange vest to direct traffic. There will not be enough leaded coffee (but plenty of decaf), and parents will once again let their kids take enough doughnuts to ring each finger (or parents stockpile doughnuts for their kids as the “promised” treat for being good at Sunday School).  So here’s my advice: get to church early – and in fact go to the first service. Everyone knows the most godly go to first service, and if you get there before the cones and vested-men, you can park anywhere you want and take your time backing into the parking spot near the exit.  A bonus to early arrival assures you the availability of caffeinated coffee and greasy-sugar-treats. If you are late, or go to second service – you’re really on your own – good luck.

2) Visitors (or not): On this day, if you see someone you don’t know, do not presume they are visitors.  It is true that many people feel an urge to try out church when the school year starts; it’s practically like post-New Years resolution time.  So you might mistake someone as a visitor; but there are plenty of church members that are just coming back after a summer hiatus.  Don’t mix up the two.  If your church does not pin-point visitors with a hideous neon “VISITOR” sticker, then just lay low.  Wait for that person that seems familiar to come up to you.  Never mistake an Elder/Deacon that took the summer off from church as a newbie.  It’s just not cool and you show your total and utter lack of discernment!

3) Seating:  This is the day to mark your territory.  If you’ve been coming to church all summer, don’t think this is a cakewalk.  That seat of yours is up for grabs, so get there early and stake your claim.  And, if you’ve been “absent” for the summer, don’t expect to get “your” seat back.  You’ve been gone; someone else has taken up residence.  BUT here’s your salvation – or have you, your amazing grace – get there early (as aforementioned in point 1) and you can reclaim what was once rightfully yours. If someone in your party needs to drop off the kids, or insists on getting coffee, or for whatever reason suddenly needs to use the restroom AGAIN, there must be a designated seater.  The designated seater is a serious job, not to be taken lightly; this is the person committed to getting directly, without hast, into the sanctuary and laying Bibles, sweaters, purses, comment cards, and bulletins out on all the needed seats – plus a couple extra comfort spots on each end. Also, this person (the designated seater) must have enough cahonas to ward off intruders.  Because there are always naïve intruders.

4) Worship: There really is not hard-and-fast rule here, but there are some things to know. Typically if you’ve been “MIA” all summer, we’ve changed things up.  We’ve been bonding while you were gone. We’ve got new songs, the stage looks different, the worship leader has changed hair style, there are new backup singers, and oh yeah – the worship leader got engaged. Oh yes, and those are congo drums.  But you don’t know any of this – because you were at Disneyland and you don’t follow the worship leader on Twitter. Whatever! Just play along and try to keep up pace with “our” new songs and new ways.

5) Sermon: Luckily this is where we all come to neutral ground.  There is a 99.9% chance that a new “series” is starting.  No one, except the Senior Pastor, knows how it’s all gonna go down, and he is mixing it up!  So just smile and enjoy the ride. And you can put (aka: pay) a little extra in the offering basket, knowing how good this new sermon series is going to be… Don’t forget, God is watching, and pastors expect tips.

Okay, there are certainly many other points to make, maybe even some that you hold near and dear to your heart; but these five should help you survive “Back to Church” Sunday.  And just remember, “It’s a jungle out there kiddies. Have a very fruitful day.” ~ Jimmy Buffet

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